Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Daniel Dennett Talks To The Trees

Daniel Dennett was interviewed about religion recently on All In The Mind (transcript and podcast available).

Some highlights:

On searching for the "god spot" in the human brain:

It's of course premature in one sense but I don't have any quarrel with that, I mean sometimes you get lucky. But I think that first of all finding a place in the brain would tell us almost nothing because there's a place in the brain for everything. You know there's a Jennifer Anniston spot and there's a hamburger spot in my brain and in yours. Anything you know anything about, anything you have any bunch of beliefs about, there's got to be something in your brain that's holding those.

The human mind as a "fiction-generating contraption":

Daniel Dennett: Oh yes. There's an instinct that we share with just about all mammals and that is when something puzzling or startling happens, if it makes a loud noise, or suddenly something jumps out of the picture, we do a startle and we respond and it's not just a looking around, it's a 'who's there - did I hear a voice, oh my god was that tree talking to me? Could it be a talking tree?' Each time we obsess it's another repetition in the mind.

Natasha Mitchell: But some of them, the talking tree becomes a cult.

Daniel Dennett: Pretty soon the whole town and even the ones that are sceptical say ah, there's no such thing as a talking tree, but every time they say it they make another copy of that idea, and pretty soon the idea of the talking tree is everywhere. Whether it's fiction or fact, it gains a foothold in that culture and every culture that we look at has a whole menagerie of invisible agents - gods, and imps, and leprechauns, and goblins, and fairies, and sprites of every kind.

Eor would also humbly add, homeopathy, astrology, acupuncture, reiki etc etc ad nauseum.

On science:

Absolutely. When scientists are baffled they say so and then they try to get unbaffled, they don't celebrate their bafflement. That is a fundamental difference between religious attitudes and scientific attitudes. Yes, science is up to its neck in mysteries and puzzles of every sort and it can confess to ignorance, and incomprehension of all sorts of phenomena. That's a genuine confession. Now let's get down to work and let's try to see if we can't come to understand this. And we never, in the scientific community, celebrate incomprehension as a good thing. That's a standard trope in religious communities.

There's much more interesting comment from Professor Dennett, though EoR did cringe when the interviewer called him a 'Darwinist'.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.